I have wanted to write a post about our experience at the Living Memorial Sculpture Garden (Near Weed, CA on Hwy. 97) since we returned from our California trip in November of last year. When I had missed Veterans’ Day, I shelved my notes thinking it would be best to wait until next year. Then I realized that today is Memorial Day in the US.
So, here I am, seizing the moment to share a moving experience of a phenomenal place on a day that has considerable significance for my neighbours to the south.
The garden, founded in 1988 by a group of Siskiyou County veterans, rests in the shadow of stunning Mt. Shasta, which acts as a natural backdrop for the ten monumental sculptures. The site is also home to 58,000 pine trees planted as a living memorial to the Americans lost in Vietnam.
The artist, Dennis Smith, is a Vietnam vet who works in metal. “Each sculpture has personal meaning for me in terms of life experience and personal incidents.” Smith sees his art as a means of peacefully considering violence, a process whereby we can ask essential questions.
It is, “A place to remember – a place to mend.” Our visit occurred on a clear, bright morning. The sun warmed the area as we strolled along, completely alone in this peaceful garden. Today, I will share four of the sculptures with you.
The Why Group
Situated as the centerpiece of the ten sculptures, on the ground a man rushes along to help a fallen comrade. High above, the central figure arches his back and stretches his arm to the sky. Why? Why war? Why this fallen man? Why any of it?
I stood by this sculpture until tears spilled from my eyes. What do these men and women feel, coming home to a world where nothing has changed, when their whole world has been rocked to the core? The embrace is intimate, yet fragile in some indescribable way.
The Flute Player
For the artist, the flute symbolizes peace and tranquility. The brochure says that if the right breeze is blowing you can almost hear the flute. It’s true. Being there in the early morning, with the garden utterly deserted, the birds rustling in the nearby trees, I heard a noise, gentle at first and growing louder as I stood in silent contemplation. It could have been a flute.
Those Left Behind
What could ever compensate for the loss of the life? The final gesture, the giving of the flag, is a stunning blend of patriotism and pathos. As I stood near this massive sculpture, the morning continued bright and sunny, yet I felt a shiver run through me. Perhaps a faint touch from those who have gone, reminding me to appreciate and understand all the mothers and fathers, wives and children who look to the flag to give meaning to what they have lost.